Enhancing Calibration of Comprehension

Arthur M. Glenberg, Thomas Sanocki, William Epstein, Craig Morris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

202 Scopus citations


Calibration of comprehension is the correlation between subjective assessments of knowledge gained from reading and performance on an objective test. Contrary to intuition, this correlation is typically close to zero. This article is structured around four points concerning calibration of comprehension. First, poor calibration of comprehension is the rule, rather than the exception, a fact that has been repeatedly demonstrated in our laboratory and in others. Poor calibration is also typical in at least one other domain: solving insight problems. The high levels of calibration reported in studies on the calibration of probabilities and feeling-of-knowing research may be dependent on using feedback from taking the test to assess the probability of correct performance on the test. Second, we present two experiments that demonstrate that poor calibration of comprehension is not associated with a particular type of performance test but is found with inference tests, verbatim recognition tests, and idea recognition tests. For the most part, poor calibration is found when the test is given immediately after reading as well as when the test is given after a delay. Also, we demonstrate that poor calibration cannot be attributed to unreliable testing procedures. Third, the evidence from three experiments indicates that a likely reason for poor calibration is that subjects assess familiarity with the general domain of a text instead of assessing knowledge gained from a particular text. Assessing domain familiarity is probably easier than assessing knowledge gained from a particular text. Also, under some conditions, applying a domain familiarity strategy does result in spurious calibration, which thereby reinforces application of the strategy. Fourth, we demonstrate that calibration of comprehension can be enhanced if subjects are given a pretest that provides (self-generated) feedback. Even this ability is limited, however. Calibration is enhanced only when the processes and knowledge tapped by the pretest are closely related to the processes and knowledge required on the criterion test. Under these conditions, subjects apparently use feedback from the pretest to predict criterion test performance with a modest degree of accuracy. We briefly discuss the implications of these results for theories of representation of knowledge gained from reading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-136
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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